Cougars advance, leaving no doubt

Countryside tops nationally-ranked Gaither for the second time this season, 2-0, to reach the state semis.

Published February 11, 2006

CLEARWATER - After Countryside handed Gaither its first loss of the season in penalty kicks Jan.27, clinching the district title, many wondered if the Cougars got lucky. The Cowboys outshot Countryside that night, but the Cougars won the PK's.

"Everyone thought it was a fluke when we beat them last time," Countryside's Mike Favero said. "No one thought we could do it again."

If once is a fluke, twice is a trend.

Favero scored twice in the first 20 minutes and the Cougars' defense held from there as Countryside knocked off nationally-ranked Gaither 2-0 for the second time in as many weeks and advanced to the state final four.

"I'm so excited, this is awesome," Favero said. "We get to go back and get another shot (at states)."

Countryside (26-4) lost in the 5A state semifinals last year, 3-2 in overtime to Lakeland George Jenkins, before jumping to 6A.

"The core of our team last year was juniors and sophomores," junior sweeper Eddie Lopez said. "We have experience and we know what its like to lose. We don't want that feeling this time."

For Gaither (23-2-2), it has been a rough two weeks. The Cowboys, ranked No.4 in the country by studentsportssoccer.com, lost two starters (Fernando Gonzalez and Doug Cobb) to injury before falling to Countryside in the district final and again Friday.

"(Countryside) just wanted it a little bit more," Gaither coach Eric Sims said. "It just seemed like they were winning everything."

Favero put Countryside up 1-0 in the third minute on a feed from Juan Rivas. But as big as Favero's goal was, forward Kyle Kuhlman might have made the play of the match in the 11th minute.

Gaither's Trent Anderson sent in a low, driving corner kick across the goalmouth to Eddie Ababio, who fired to the far post. With Cougars' keeper Jeff Attinella guarding the near post, Ababio's shot looked to be the equalizer. But Kuhlman knocked the ball away to preserve the shutout - and the momentum.

"Our goal defensively was to stop Eddie (Ababio)," Lopez said. "We played great team defense."